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Winston Churchill statue to be uncovered ahead of Macron visit

Jonathan Brady

By Henry Vaughan and Caitlin Doherty, PA

Sir Winston Churchill’s statue in Parliament Square is being uncovered ahead of the French President’s visit to London – but monuments to Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi will stay hidden behind protective screens.

The statues were boarded up, along with the Cenotaph, ahead of protests which saw far-right demonstrators clash with police as they took over areas near the Palace of Westminster and Trafalgar Square on Saturday.

There were also violent scenes in the capital the previous weekend during a Black Lives Matter protest triggered by the death of George Floyd in the US.

In London, the statue of former prime minister Sir Winston was daubed with graffiti accusing him of being a racist, while the monument of the slave trader Edward Colston was toppled in Bristol.

A spokesman for the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said the boards around the Churchill statue will be taken down on Wednesday ahead of Emmanuel Macron’s visit on Thursday.

“The covering around the Winston Churchill statue will be removed for the visit of President Macron to London,” he said.

But the protective coverings around the statues of Mandela and Gandhi, which the mayor is also responsible for, will stay in place “under review”.

English Heritage said the boards around the Cenotaph were taken down on Monday night.

The French premier’s visit marks the 80th anniversary of General Charles de Gaulle’s appeal to the French population to resist the German occupation of France during the Second World War.

His rallying call was broadcast on the BBC in June 1940, when he said: “I call upon all Frenchmen who want to remain free to listen to my voice and follow me.”

Mr Macron will be welcomed to London with a ceremonial Guard of Honour from The Coldstream Guards at Clarence House and a flypast by the RAF’s Red Arrows alongside their French counterparts, La Patrouille de France.

Mr Khan was forced to defend his decision to cover Churchill’s statue in Parliament Square after criticism from the Home Secretary.

“We should free Churchill, a hero of our nation, who fought against fascism and racism in this country and Europe.

“He has given us the freedom to live our lives the way we do today,” Priti Patel told the Daily Mail.

“We have seen the desecration of war memorials, which is thoroughly unacceptable.

“Now we’re seeing a national hero being boarded up.”

And the Prime Minister used an article in the Daily Telegraph to defend the statue and warn against attempts to “photoshop” Britain’s cultural landscape.

He lauded Churchill as “one of the country’s greatest ever leaders”, saying it was the “height of lunacy” to accuse him of racism.

“I will resist with every breath in my body any attempt to remove that statue from Parliament Square, and the sooner his protective shielding comes off the better,” he wrote.

However, Mr Khan said the decision to protect the statues in Parliament Square was a “wise” precaution, fearing they could become a “flashpoint for violence” involving extreme far-right protesters.

Those attending Saturday’s demonstration claimed to be guarding the statue of Winston Churchill as well as the Cenotaph.

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